Monday, June 02, 2008

A Critique!



Peter Eisenman has a new 'Six Point Plan' for architecture. It's rather interesting. Choice quote, which could nicely be adapted to the current phenomena of 'consultation':

The more passive people become the more they are presented by the media with supposed opportunities to exercise choice. Vote for this, vote for whatever stories you want to hear, vote for what popular song you want to hear, vote for what commercial you want to see. This voting gives the appearance of active participation, but it is merely another form of sedation because the voting is irrelevant. It is part of the attempt to make people believe they are participating when in fact they are becoming more and more passive.

There's much wrong with these 'Six Points' of course, but when a gleefully apolitical smugonaut like Eisenman starts getting itchy and talking about what is so readily ignored by the architectural fraternity, then there's something very strange going on indeed...

15 Comments:

Blogger Murphy said...

Bloody hell! I might have to put him back on my christmas card list after this... He's particularly on the ball regarding the effect of computer upon architecture, and how that echoes the illusory-choice culture of the present. It's a bit of a "what have I unleashed?" sentiment, however, seeing as he was the one above all else who brought the role of the computer to the foreground of architectural theory... He's never been good on the social aspects of architecture, though... his whole 'metaphysics of presence' schtick is very poor. If I wasn't in such a panic I'd write a proper response to it...

9:06 pm  
Blogger Daniel Campbell Blight said...

I see what Eisenman is getting at here. However, it is a tad old hat. For example, this quote of Zizek's I wrote down when listening to his spitting face at the last Birkbeck masterclass (and I'm sure he's not the first to say such things, just probably the most comedic in doing so):

"The elite no longer offer us an option, instead we are forced to choose for ourselves. However, because we have been choiceless for so long, we no longer have the ability to choose. We are under the illusion that we have a choice, but in reality we only have three choices: shit, shit or more shit."

I guess with specific relation to the media, there is another Baudrillardian/Zizekian idea that we are constantly bombarded with trauma (the middle east for example) in order to prevent political thinking. I see this within the popular music aesthetic, through the way it obfuscates sound and replaces it with imagery (further inforcing the dominance of the visual in contemporary society). One of the biggest problems with this act by the elite, is not that we are not given a choice, but that we seemingly forget how to choose, regardless of whether we are offered true democratic choice (if there is such a thing). The example, once again relating to aural culture, is that contemporary society hears, but has lost the crucial ability to listen.

A tad off the architectural mark, but any thoughts? I see what Eisenman is getting at here. However, it is a tad old hat. For example, this quote of Zizek's I wrote down when listening to his spitting face at the last Birkbeck masterclass (and I'm sure he's not the first to say such things, just probably the most comedic in doing so):

"The elite no longer offer us an option, instead we are forced to choose for ourselves. However, because we have been choiceless for so long, we no longer have the ability to choose. We are under the illusion that we have a choice, but in reality we only have three choices: shit, shit or more shit."

I guess with specific relation to the media, there is another Baudrillardian/Zizekian idea that we are constantly bombarded with trauma (the middle east for example) in order to prevent political thinking. I see this most in popular music, through the way it obfuscates sound and replaces it with imagery (further inforcing the dominance of the visual in contemporary society). One of the biggest problems with this act by the elite, is not that we are not given a choice, but that we seemingly forget how to choose, regardless of whether we are offered true democratic choice (if there is such a thing). The example, once again relating to aural culture, is that contemporary society hears, but has lost the crucial ability to listen.

A tad off the architectural mark, but any thoughts?

10:33 pm  
Blogger Daniel Campbell Blight said...

sorry, didn't mean to post that twice! fucking tinternet.

10:35 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Never mind...it may well be old hat, but architecture, especially in Eisenman's rarefied area, has become so immured to not talking about the outside world (other than the guff of 'sustainability', which is just self-congratulatory greenwash) that this reads as pretty fierce stuff.

If I wasn't in such a panic I'd write a proper response to it...

Shame! I hope you can write something when the horror is over.

12:12 am  
Blogger dave said...

WHOA. Eisenman supports engagement, cites May 68, argues that forms are not the root of beauty, opposes architectural iconicity, argues in favor of drawing and against the computer! It would seem like a manifesto of an anti-Eisenman group if not for the grandiose self-drawn link to Beethoven's late style (which identifies the true author as Eisenman; his reliance on 'forms' rather than engagement has always primarily been an attempt to project his incredible ego). Beethoven aside, I cannot believe just how right he is here...

5:53 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Exactly - I came across this on No2Self, linked with the comment 'he needs to get out more', and had a look expecting the usual Eisenman smuggery, and was pretty taken aback - I may have murmured 'fuck, yes!' or similar. Actually it seems to precisely show signs of getting out more, and noticing what happens outside of the jetset; although 'contradictory' is definitely right.

4:35 pm  
Anonymous Henderson Downing said...

Intriguingly, given his oft-repeated attachment to autonomy, most of the points of the 'six point plan' (perhaps more of a deliberate 'non-plan') intersect with Eisenman's recent obsession with the work of Michael Haneke. In an interview with Haneke earlier this year, Eisenman pondered the potential for oppositional innovation within the period of the late style. Crudely explicated as yet more 'old hat', Eisenman suggests that Haneke's films recalibrate a recognition of sensual experience as being actively constituted by an embodied response to material techniques rather than through the passive consumption of bite-size chunks of narrative (or the algorithmically generated architectural iconicity aligned with the 'hegemony of the image'). In between mouthfuls of apparently delicious mozzarella-flecked rigatoni, he raised the possibility that architecture could produce something analogous to what he terms the 'radical passivity' or the 'non-passive passive' experienced by audiences when watching Haneke films. Tarrying with the cinematic, is this a critique of the eagerly oedipal Robert Mitchum fans that turned their post-critical backs on their Father . . . or the beginning of a concession?

Another basic banality: How do we position the relationship Eisenman makes between passivity and the ubiquity of computing when scanning though the often impassioned (if comically vitriolic) responses to the 'six point plan' on Archinect and elsewhere? (My favourite comment so far: 'Point 7: You kids get off my lawn'.) Is this more illusory participation? Is this?

1:03 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

Regarding the supposed non-passivity of the responses to Eisenman, have a look at this particular reply:

"we are in the information age
building information management
drawings replaced by data
styles are algorithmic and therefore transcended

paradigm shifted

any questions peter?"


If this isn't an example of passivity, understood as the unquestioning acceptance of a particular ideology as it is presented, then I'm a turnip.

9:23 pm  
Anonymous henderson downing said...

I agree. Such responses reinforce Eisenman's claim that his observation about student passivity is 'not a condemnation but a fact'.

But surely the (admittedly unsubtle) subtext to such statements involves Eisenman attempting to provoke another level of discussion that begins to move beyond the passive responses of students trained in a depoliticized and conservative architectural climate. In my rather simplistic reading, the 'plan' is deliberately (egomaniacally?) structured to galvanize debate around such issues as the possibility or impossibility of developing a critical practice capable of oppositional action: a discussion that has been increasingly eliminated from most areas of architectural education in recent years (a process in which Eisenman has also contributed).

Maybe such a reading is too utopian?

12:11 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

No, I think that's exactly what he's trying to do, rather extraordinarily. Very interesting, the Haneke comparison. What exactly would be the architectural equivalent of the Haneke lingering take though, I wonder...?

2:59 pm  
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